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  • Author: Arvind Subramanian
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: My recent research paper “India's GDP Mis-estimation: Likelihood, Magnitudes, Mechanisms, and Implications,” (hereafter “GDP paper”) and the associated op-ed in the Indian Express on June 11, 2019 have generated considerable debate. This is encouraging because serious argument and counter-argument are the basis for good policy-making. Since the issue itself is of great importance, the counter-arguments to my analysis warrant a considered response. That is the aim of this note, which is a complement to the original paper, addressing both the larger issues and some of the specific points that have been raised. The note is structured as follows. Section II describes my engagement with India’s GDP estimation when I was Chief Economic Adviser. Section III elaborates on the framework/approach underlying the GDP paper. Section IV makes explicit the key puzzle surrounding India’s growth estimates, and addresses the possible explanations for it. Section V explores the puzzle in greater detail. Section VI provides additional cross-country evidence on growth and price deflators, which support the findings of the original paper, namely that growth during 2011-16 was likely overestimated by a significant margin. Section VII addresses two broad objections to the main findings. Section VIII discusses some of the methodological critiques of the paper. Section IX offers some thoughts on the way forward.
  • Topic: Economics, Political Economy, International Development, Economic growth
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India
  • Author: Alice Evans
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Support for gender equality has risen, globally. Analyses of this trend focus on individual and/or country-level characteristics. But this overlooks sub-national variation. Citydwellers are more likely to support gender equality in education, employment, leadership, and leisure. Why is this? This paper investigates the causes of rural-urban differences through comparative, qualitative research. It centres on Cambodia, where the growth of rural garment factories enables us to test theories that female employment fosters support for gender equality: potentially closing rural-urban differences; or whether other important aspects of city-living accelerate support for gender equality. Drawing on this rural and urban fieldwork, the paper suggests why social change is faster in Cambodian cities. First, cities raise the opportunity costs of gender divisions of labour – given higher living costs and more economic opportunities for women. Second, cities increase exposure to alternatives. People living in more interconnected, heterogeneous, densely populated areas are more exposed to women demonstrating their equal competence in socially valued, masculine domains. Third, they have more avenues to collectively contest established practices. Association and exposure reinforce growing flexibility in gender divisions of labour. By investigating the causes of subnational variation, this paper advances a new theory of growing support for gender equality.
  • Topic: Economics, Gender Issues, Urbanization, Women, Inequality
  • Political Geography: Cambodia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Alice Evans
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: This paper shows that countries may reduce labour repression if they perceive this as conducive to export growth. This paper traces what happened before, in the presence of, and then following the withdrawal of international economic incentives for pro-labour reforms in Vietnam and Bangladesh. The Government of Vietnam announced it would allow independent trade unions, in order to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and increase market access. Similarly, the Government of Bangladesh rescinded restrictions on unions, following global condemnation of Rana Plaza and fear of buyers leaving en masse. Both governments reduced labour repression to promote export growth. With high-level authorisation, Vietnamese and Bangladeshi activists and reformists became less fearful, and mobilised for substantive change. However, these economic incentives were short-lived: after Trump’s election, the USA withdrew from TPP; buyers continued to source from Bangladesh, and squeezed prices (without requiring labour reforms). Both governments then amped up labour repression - notwithstanding private regulation, economic upgrading, industry growth, and mass strikes.
  • Topic: Economics, Labor Issues, Reform, Economic growth, Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, South Asia, Vietnam
  • Author: Ricardo Hausmann, Carlo Pietrobelli, Miguel Angel Santos
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: The literature on income gaps between Chiapas and the rest of Mexico revolves around individual factors, such as education and ethnicity. Yet, twenty years after the Zapatista rebellion, the schooling gap between Chiapas and the other Mexican entities has shrunk while the income gap has widened, and we find no evidence indicating that Chiapas indigenes are worse-off than their likes elsewhere in Mexico. We explore a different hypothesis. Based on census data, we calculate the economic complexity index, a measure of the knowledge agglomeration embedded in the economic activities at a municipal level in Mexico. Economic complexity explains a larger fraction of the income gap than any individual factor. Our results suggest that chiapanecos are not the problem, the problem is Chiapas. These results hold when we extend our analysis to Mexico’s thirty-one federal entities, suggesting that place-specific determinants that have been overlooked in both the literature and policy, have a key role in the determination of income gaps.
  • Topic: Development, Economics, Migration, Political Economy, Economic Inequality
  • Political Geography: Central America, Mexico, Chiapas
  • Author: Jeffrey Frankel
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Countries that specialize in commodities have in recent years been hit by high volatility in world prices for their exports. This paper suggests four ways that commodity-exporters can make themselves less vulnerable. (1) Option contracts can be used to hedge against short-term declines in the commodity price without giving up the upside, as Mexico has shown. (2) Commodity-linked bonds can hedge longer-term risk, and often have a natural ultimate counter-party in multinational corporations that depend on the commodity as an input. (3) The well-documented pro-cyclicality of fiscal policy among commodity exporters can be reduced by insulating official forecasters against an optimism bias, as Chile has shown. (4) Monetary policy can be made automatically more counter-cyclical, judged by the criterion of currency appreciation in reaction to positive terms-of-trade shocks, under either of two regimes: peggers can add the export commodity to a currency basket (CCB, for “Currency-plus-Commodity Basket”) and others can target Nominal Income instead of the CPI.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Economics, Oil, Commodities, Currency Basket, Indexed Bonds
  • Political Geography: South America, Mexico, Chile
  • Author: Ricardo Hausmann, Miguel Angel Santos, Juan Obach
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: This report aims to summarize the main findings of the project as gathered by the three baseline documents, and frame them within a coherent set of policy recommendations that can help Panama to maintain their growth momentum in time and make it more inclusive. Three elements stand out as cornerstones of our proposal: (i) attracting and retaining qualified human capital; (ii) maximizing the diffusion of know-how and knowledge spillovers, and (iii) leveraging on public-private dialog to tackle coordination problems that are hindering economic activity outside the Panama-Colón axis.
  • Topic: Development, Economics, Economic growth, Economic Policy
  • Political Geography: Central America, Panama
  • Author: Jeffrey Frankel
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: The paper proposes an exchange rate regime for oil-exporting countries. The goal is to achieve the best of both flexible and fixed exchange rates. The arrangement is designed to deliver monetary policy that counteracts rather than exacerbates the effects of swings in the oil market, while yet offering the day-to-day transparency and predictability of a currency peg. The proposal is to peg the national currency to a basket, but a basket that includes not only the currencies of major trading partners (in particular, the dollar and the euro), but also the export commodity (oil). The plan is called Currency-plus-Commodity Basket (CCB). The paper begins by fleshing out the need for an innovative arrangement that allows accommodation to trade shocks. The analysis provides evidence from six Gulf countries that periods when their currencies were “undervalued”, in the sense that the actual foreign exchange value lay below what it would have been under the CCB proposal, were periods of overheating as reflected in high inflation and of external imbalance as reflected in high balance of payments surpluses. Conversely, periods when the currencies were “overvalued,” in the sense that their foreign exchange value lay above what it would have been under CCB, featured unusually low inflation and low balance of payments. These results are suggestive of the implication that the economy would have been more stable under CCB. The last section of the paper offers a practical blueprint for detailed implementation of the proposal.
  • Topic: Economics, Oil, Exchange Rate Policy, Commodities, Currency Basket
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Matt Andrews, Peter Harrington
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Many countries, like Sri Lanka, are trying to diversify their economies but often lack the capabilities to lead diversification programs. One of these capabilities relates to targeting new sectors to promote and pursue through a diversification policy: countries know they are ‘doomed to choose’ sectors to target,1 but lack effective capabilities to do the targeting. This paper narrates a recent (and ongoing) initiative to establish this kind of capability in Sri Lanka. The initiative adopted a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) process, where a team of Sri Lankan officials worked with Harvard Center for International Development (CID) facilitators to build capabilities. The paper tells the story of this process, providing documented evidence of the progress over time and describing the thinking behind the PDIA process. It shows how a reliable targeting mechanism can emerge in a reasonably limited period, when a committed team of public officials are effectively authorized and engaged. The paper will be of particular interest to those thinking about targeting for diversification and to those interested in processes (like PDIA) which are focused on building state capability and fostering policy implementation in public contexts.
  • Topic: Development, Economics, Economic growth, Economic Policy
  • Political Geography: South Asia, Sri Lanka
  • Author: Michele Coscia, Timothy Cheston, Ricardo Hausmann
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Are regions poor because they have bad institutions or are they poor because they are disconnected from the social channels through which technology diffuses? This paper tests institutional and technological theories of economic convergence by looking at income convergence across Colombian municipalities. We use formal employment and wage data to estimate growth of income per capita at the municipal level. In Colombia, municipalities are organized into 32 departamentos or states. We use cellphone metadata to cluster municipalities into 32 communication clusters, defined as a set of municipalities that are densely connected through phone calls. We show that these two forms of grouping municipalities are very different. We study the effect on municipal income growth of the characteristics of both the state and the communication cluster to which the municipality belongs. We find that belonging to a richer communication cluster accelerates convergence, while belonging to a richer state does not. This result is robust to controlling for state fixed effects when studying the impact of communication clusters and vice versa. The results point to the importance of social interactions rather than formal institutions in the growth process.
  • Topic: Development, Economics, Science and Technology, Economic growth, Institutions
  • Political Geography: Colombia, South America
  • Author: Andres Gomez-Lievano, Oscar Patterson-Lomba, Ricardo Hausmann
  • Publication Date: 12-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: The prevalence of many urban phenomena changes systematically with population size1. We propose a theory that unifies models of economic complexity2, 3 and cultural evolution4 to derive urban scaling. The theory accounts for the difference in scaling exponents and average prevalence across phenomena, as well as the difference in the variance within phenomena across cities of similar size. The central ideas are that a number of necessary complementary factors must be simultaneously present for a phenomenon to occur, and that the diversity of factors is logarithmically related to population size. The model reveals that phenomena that require more factors will be less prevalent, scale more superlinearly and show larger variance across cities of similar size. The theory applies to data on education, employment, innovation, disease and crime, and it entails the ability to predict the prevalence of a phenomenon across cities, given information about the prevalence in a single city.
  • Topic: Economics, Urbanization, Employment, Economic Theory
  • Political Geography: Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Michele Coscia, Ricardo Hausmann, Frank Neffke
  • Publication Date: 11-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Tourism is one of the most important economic activities in the world: for many countries it represents the single largest product in their export basket. However, it is a product difficult to chart: "exporters" of tourism do not ship it abroad, but they welcome importers inside the country. Current research uses social accounting matrices and general equilibrium models, but the standard industry classifications they use make it hard to identify which domestic industries cater to foreign visitors. In this paper, we make use of open source data and of anonymized and aggregated transaction data giving us insights about the spend behavior of foreigners inside two countries, Colombia and the Netherlands, to inform our research. With this data, we are able to describe what constitutes the tourism sector, and to map the most attractive destinations for visitors. In particular, we find that countries might observe different geographical tourists' patterns - concentration versus decentralization -; we show the importance of distance, a country's reported wealth and cultural affinity in informing tourism; and we show the potential of combining open source data and anonymized and aggregated transaction data on foreign spend patterns in gaining insight as to the evolution of tourism from one year to another.
  • Topic: Economics, Political Economy, Tourism
  • Political Geography: Europe, Colombia, South America, Netherlands
  • Author: Roberto Hernández Hernández, Francisco J. Monaldi
  • Publication Date: 11-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Venezuela has one of the most abundant geological endowments in the world. Oil proven reserves are among the largest globally, even if a more conservative criterion than the one used by the current government is applied. However, these resources are qualitatively different than those of other abundant regions such as the Middle East. The large majority constitutes extra-heavy oil, which generally requires higher oil prices to be extracted profitably. During the last decade, the Venezuelan oil industry wasted a unique opportunity to increase investment and production. At the high oil prices that prevailed, the massive oil reserves could have been monetized by rapidly increasing production with a large margin of profitability. Quite to the contrary, production steadily dropped due either to lack of investment in the new unconventional oil projects or for failing to compensate the decline of the older conventional fields. It is a tragic story of great potential with dismal performance. A series of trends were negatively impacting the Venezuelan oil industry even before the oil price collapse in 2014. From the revenue side, although oil prices showed an increase in real terms of 120% between 2000 and 2014, the barrels that effectively generate cash for Venezuela have shown a continuous decline. This is not just because production has been declining for the most part during the last eighteen years (a trend that has gotten significantly worse during the last year), but also because of a number of developments. First, during that period, total exports have declined more rapidly than production, and recently, net exports have declined more than total exports. Consumption in the massively subsidized domestic market increased until 2013 (when it started to decline likely because of the recession in the local economy), while imports of oil products for the domestic market have increased since 2012. The domestic market not only generates negative cash-flow for the national oil company (NOC), PDVSA, but also its expansion reduced the barrels available to export. More recently, there has also been an increase in imports of light oil and naphtha as diluents for the extra-heavy oil. Second, the Venezuelan production basket has become heavier and the share of unconventional production, generally less profitable, has increased. Third, the production wholly operated by PDVSA has been falling much more rapidly, while the production share of joint-ventures increased. Fourth, a significant share of the exports to Latin America and the Caribbean is subsidized (although these exports have declined recently). Fifth, some oil exports are committed to repay debts of PDVSA and specially the Venezuelan government, limiting the actual cash flow received by the company. In particular, the government’s debt agreements with China involve a significant and increasing amount of production, although recently those agreements were restructured, allowing for a grace period with no capital amortization. From the expenditure side, PDVSA was increasingly responsible of carrying social expenditures and activities not related to the oil industry, which limited the resources for highly profitable investments. That is in addition to the increased fiscal take due to changes in the tax legislation. Also, higher investment requirements due to an increase in the equity share of PDVSA in joint venture projects, has had an impact on its cash flow. The explanations for the underperformance of the Venezuelan oil industry basically fall into two connected categories: the multiple problems facing PDVSA; and the increase in above-ground risks for foreign investors operating in the country. The deterioration of the institutional framework, led to radical fiscal and regulatory changes, and to the nationalization of the majority of the industry. In addition, the substantial over-extraction of resources from the NOC, the significant macroeconomic distortions affecting the cost structure of oil companies, and the constraints imposed by the energy infrastructure and human capital availability; have combined to produce dismal results. The massive firing of the majority of the management and technical experts from PDVSA in 2003 following the political conflict that led to a strike, has left the company with limited capabilities to operate effectively. The recent decline in oil prices, and the changes in the international market structure, have exposed more dramatically the difficulties facing the Venezuelan oil sector, and call into question its ability to prevent a continuation of the declining trend in oil extraction. This situation becomes particularly severe if we take into account the cash flow constraints facing PDVSA, as well as its multiple operational problems, power cuts, and conflicts with oilfield services providers. These challenges are proportional to the enormous investments required to finance the projects in the Orinoco Oil Belt, where most of the reserves in Venezuela are located, and where the quality of the crude and the lack of development of the region, are just two of the many issues that need to be addressed. Since this paper is part of a wider project to understand the macroeconomic challenges facing the country in 2016-17, it focuses narrowly on the financial problems of the oil industry in the short-term and the operational challenges that could impede its recovery in the next couple of years. Within this context, it largely analyzes the upstream operations, i.e. oil extraction, rather than the downstream, given that in the former is where the oil rents are generated and constitutes the main source of foreign exchange and fiscal revenues of Venezuela. Other areas for further research are mentioned at the end of the document.2 Official figures are used to the extent that they are publicly available. An important aspect that prevents an exhaustive evaluation of the oil sector in Venezuela is the lack of available information regarding key performance indicators affecting the cost structure of oil projects, the cash flow of PDVSA, and the fiscal contributions of the oil sector to the government, among other important variables. Thus, on occasion, estimations for variables of interest and explanations for their divergence from official figures are provided. The paper has two main sections. The first one analyzes the issues affecting the cash flow of PDVSA, the effects of macroeconomic and fiscal variables on both revenues and costs, as well as other financial issues affecting the performance of the company. The second section discusses some of the operational challenges facing the industry and mentions areas for further research. 2 For a more general overview of the recent developments of the oil sector in Venezuela see Monaldi (2015)
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Oil, Natural Resources
  • Political Geography: South America, Venezuela
  • Author: Michael Clemens, Lant Pritchett
  • Publication Date: 02-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: For decades, migration economics has stressed the effects of migration restrictions on income distribution in the host country. Recently the literature has taken a new direction by estimating the costs of migration restrictions to global economic efficiency. In contrast, a new strand of research posits that migration restrictions could be not only desirably redistributive, but in fact globally efficient. This is the new economic case for migration restrictions. The case rests on the possibility that without tight restrictions on migration, migrants from poor countries could transmit low productivity ("A" or Total Factor Productivity) to rich countries—offsetting efficiency gains from the spatial reallocation of labor from low to high-productivity places. We provide a novel assessment, proposing a simple model of dynamically efficient migration under productivity transmission and calibrating it with new macro and micro data. In this model, the case for efficiency-enhancing migration barriers rests on three parameters: transmission, the degree to which origin-country total factor productivity is embodied in migrants; assimilation, the degree to which migrants’ productivity determinants become like natives’ over time in the host country; and congestion, the degree to which transmission and assimilation change at higher migrant stocks. On current evidence about the magnitudes of these parameters, dynamically efficient policy would not imply open borders but would imply relaxations on current restrictions. That is, the new efficiency case for some migration restrictions is empirically a case against the stringency of current restrictions.
  • Topic: Economics, Migration, Labor Issues, Economy
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Matt Andrews
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Professional football clubs are ubiquitous in Europe. Every small to medium sized city has one. But most cities do not have an F.C. Barcelona or Bayern Munich or Manchester United. These are among the ‘super clubs’ of Europe: they win more games, attract more supporters, and make more money than other clubs. These clubs were not always the juggernauts one sees today, however. This paper looks at how they emerged. It tells more of an economic story than a sporting one, recounting a narrative similar to that one might tell about the emergence of successful multinational companies. According to this narrative, super clubs rise by producing increasingly more complex products because of expanding productive capabilities, providing growing opportunities for economic spillovers in the process. As indicated, this narrative focuses particularly on the ‘capabilities’ that have helped super clubs emerge. This focus draws on an emerging theory about economic complexity, which is used to frame the paper and is briefly introduced in section two (following an introduction to super clubs). The theory posits that production results from the creative combination of economic capabilities—or know-how. Some products require few common capabilities, are produced by everyone, and have relatively low value: like the average football club. Other products require many capabilities (including some that are rare), have high value, and are produced by a select group: like the super club. This theory is used to suggest two hypotheses about how football clubs become super: First, clubs do not become super by just producing better versions of the same products (a successful football team). Instead, over time, these clubs produce more complex, higher-value, globally consumed products. Second, clubs become super by accumulating new capabilities (or know-how) over time, manifest in new skills and people accessed through a range of ‘catalyst capabilities’ that source the skills. The catalyst capabilities include engagement mechanisms (through which skills are located and contracted), capital, infrastructure, and adaptive leadership. These hypotheses are put to the test in this study.
  • Topic: Economics, Sports, Economic Complexity
  • Political Geography: Europe, European Union
  • Author: Lant Pritchett, Yamini Aiyar
  • Publication Date: 06-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: We combine newly created data on per student government expenditure on children in government elementary schools across India, data on per student expenditure by households on students attending private elementary schools, and the ASER measure of learning achievement of students in rural areas. The combination of these three sources allows us to compare both the "accounting cost" difference of public and private schools and also the "economic cost"—what it would take public schools, at their existing efficacy in producing learning, to achieve the learning results of the private sector. We estimate that the "accounting cost" per student in a government school in the median state in 2011/12 was Rs. 14,615 while the median child in private school cost Rs. 5,961. Hence in the typical Indian state, educating a student in government school costs more than twice as much than in private school, a gap of Rs. 7,906. Just these accounting cost gaps aggregated state by state suggests an annual excess of public over private cost of children enrolled in government schools of Rs. 50,000 crores (one crore=10 million) or 0.6 percent of GDP. But even that staggering estimate does not account for the observed learning differentials between public and private. We produce a measure of inefficiency that combines both the excess accounting cost and a money metric estimate of the cost of the inefficacy of lower learning achievement. This measure is the cost at which government schools would be predicted to reach the learning levels of the private sector. Combining the calculations of accounting cost differentials plus the cost of reaching the higher levels of learning observed in the private sector state by state (as both accounting cost differences and learning differences vary widely across states) implies that the excess cost of achieving the existing private learning levels at public sector costs is Rs. 232,000 crores (2.78% of GDP, or nearly US$50 billion). It might seem counterintuitive that the total loss to inefficiency is larger than the actual budget, but that is because the actual budget produces such low levels of learning at such high cost that when the loss from both higher expenditures and lower outputs are measured it exceeds expenditures.
  • Topic: Economics, Education, Government, Children, Youth
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India
  • Author: Ishac Diwan, Philip Keefer, Marc Schiffbauer
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Using an original database of 469 politically connected firms under the Mubarak regime in Egypt, we explore the economic effects of cronyism. Previous research has shown that cronyism is lucrative. We address numerous questions raised by this research. First, do crony firms receive favorable regulatory treatment? We find that they do: connected firms are more likely to benefit from trade protection, energy subsidies, access to land, and regulatory enforcement. Second, does regulatory capture account for the high value of connected firms? In our sample, connected firms exhibit superior corporate performance relative to unconnected firms and this is systematically related to regulatory capture. Energy subsidies and trade protection, for example, account for the higher profits of politically connected firms. Third, do crony firms hurt growth? We exploit a natural experiment setting to show that the entry of politically connected firms into previously unconnected sectors slows employment growth and skews the distribution of employment towards less productive smaller firms.
  • Topic: Economics, Economy, Business , Networks, Cronyism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Egypt